INFLCR CEO Jim Cavale presents “Meet the Centennials,” a keynote speech delivered at the 2019 Learfield IMG College Intercollegiate Athletics Forum in New York City.
Jim discusses how younger generations desire to access content, how the pro and college sports worlds must approach their adaptation to new media and broadcasting channels, and explains the 9/10 posting ratio that will prepare college athletes for a future that includes monetization of name, image, and likeness.
Listen to the audio version:
Full Keynote Address Transcript
Jim Cavale: So, first of all, thank you for getting up early. I know yesterday was probably a pretty long day. And we’re in New York. So I know there’s a lot to do.
So the fact that you got up and joined me for this talk is an honor. And I’m humbled by that because we got a lot to talk about. Okay?
A lot has happened, not just in that journey you just saw, 18 months. And you just heard from the source of the audience owners in college sports, not TV networks, not the institutions, but the social media accounts of student athletes outnumber, and unique audience, all the other audiences out there. And we have to embrace that and realize that.
And so, if you listen to them, and you hear what they want, they want content. They want to be able to build a brand responsibly, that they can leverage after their career is over. They’re wiser than athletes once were before. They know they’re not going to play forever.
And so, I think we should take a journey through the history of media and let’s see, do it with history of college sports media. So let’s start with back, my dad tells me there was at one point only three channels. I wasn’t around for that era, but ABC, NBC, CBS, right? That was it, pretty hard to get on TV and be broadcasted. We, if you watch some of the college football 150 stuff on ESPN, you saw how Knute Rockne was like pioneer, PR pioneer figuring out how to get Notre Dame on newsreels before there were even three channels, right.
You really had to fight and be innovative to get space on national television for people to know your brand. And then it evolved.
This is more the era I grew up in, 30 channels, right. So, you know, there’s maybe six channels that broadcasted sports. Five, six, maybe 10 games on a Saturday get broadcasted, right. And dependent what cable package you paid for. And then it continued to evolve. This is during the ‘80s, ‘90s, continued to evolve towards the turn of the century, 3,000 channels, right? I would say this is the heyday of college sports, the meteorites deals. We started to see the bigger salaries we started to see for coaches, athletic directors and staff at the college level.
And then the phone came out.
And we now have 3 billion channels because everybody is a channel, right? So that clip from Commissioner Sankey talking about a tweet and somebody deserved more than a tweet but the reality Commissioner Sankey, the reality everyone in this room is a tweet is now getting on the same level as a broadcast because people consume things and what used to be 140 characters, now, a couple of hundred characters. That’s just the reality. We can either fight it or we can embrace it because it’s only going to increase in volume.
So, going back to my days growing up and before, this is how we used to watch sports. We were engaged in every moment. We were in the stands watching the game, in reality, watching everything going on. We were at Buffalo Wild Wings with our friends, watching our favorite team, who made it all the way through the season to get to the national championship. And we were engaged in the moment. And then this is how we watch games now. Look up in the stands at the national championship. People have paid $20,000 to bring their family to Northern California to watch the Alabama Crimson Tide play and they’re on their phone.
So when we look at this reality, we have to consider what it means to the future of your business, of your athletic department, of your media company, of whatever you do in this space. We have to consider that.
Because when you consider the biggest traditional media event still in today’s sports world is Super Bowl and the coverage it gets between people in the stands and people watching on TV, you also have to consider that 2.7x more people are interacting with that event on social media. Three times more people. And that’s the biggest traditional media event. I would say that multiple is at least three and it could be up to 10 depending on the event you’re looking at.
So, with that being said, think about how the athlete plays a part in this. Think about how the story each athlete is telling on their social media before the event. And then how important the event is because I don’t want to overstate the fact that winning still matters. The live broadcast still matters. It still is the center of everything. But it’s created more opportunities before and after it takes place to reach people, to engage people. It’s not just a two-hour thing anymore.
It’s a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week thing. And it’s not just on the TV. It’s on your phone on social media.
Great study here, two thirds, two thirds of your brand audience—I’m talking about a college athletics brand, a college athletics conference—two thirds of your audience is reached through non-owned social media accounts. So let’s break that down.
This is one of our biggest college basketball clients. This is a breakdown of the audience they reach through media, owned media on the left, TV, this school is on national television every game, okay. So their TV ratings and the million or so average viewers of those games factored in. Stadium and arena attendance of the games they play. Team social media accounts, okay, this is about 2,400,000 people that this team is reaching.
This is a big-time college basketball program reaching 2.4 million people through owned-media, TV, team social, etc.
Then on the right, you see non-owned media, mainly the current athletes and alums of this institution who are reaching 7 million people through their social media accounts, through Instagram, through Snapchat, through Twitter, through Facebook.
So this program is basically reaching way more people, three times plus, through non-owned social media accounts and it’s in their interest to help cultivate the content and messaging that’s going out through those, which is what we do and, and we’ll talk about that opportunity in a second. But this is a breakdown of the average brand and sports.
And so, we’re going to look at one of our clients, Oregon football. Oregon football has 414,000 followers on the team accounts for Oregon football in Instagram and Twitter. Just their current athletes have 1.4 million unique followers on Instagram and Twitter. That’s 3.4 times more people being reached through the players, just the current players. I’m not even including the Jonathan Stewarts and the alums. The current players reach three and a half times more people than the accounts Oregon has for their team.
Now, think about this, athletic departments are spending anywhere from a quarter of a million to a million dollars on these social media and content staff now, right? So they’re spending money on videographers, photographers, social media folks who are tweeting and instagramming. But it’s all built around this 414,000 audience, the team accounts.
We have an opportunity to start thinking about taking the same content and doing what those athletes just told you they want, providing it to them to tell their story. It’s a big opportunity.
We know recruiting drives sports and college, right? We know we have to get the best athletes and recruit them to our institution. Recruits want to see the program through the athletes. Fans want to see the story through the eyes of the athletes.
There’s an old saying, it’s not that old, but it goes with social media, “People don’t follow brands on social, the way they follow other people.” And that’s why athletes have gained this following. People are just less likely to follow a team account than they are to follow the player on the team.
Top 100 men’s basketball recruits in 2020, let’s look at them real quick, okay; 94% are active on social media; 35% follow athlete accounts and don’t follow the teams recruiting them. Think about that.
Duke is recruiting me. Kansas is recruiting me. Carolina is recruiting me. I’m following the players on those teams, but I’m not following their team account. That’s how I’m going to evaluate what it would be like to play at that program; 5% of the top 100 recruits follow team accounts of the same five top 25 teams. So these athletes are trying to find out what it would be like to play at that program through the other athletes that are there. So athletes have become channels. I’ve made that point.
Now let’s transition to another reality. Athletes cannot get access to content.
Look at this. Three watermark photos stolen from Google Images. If you are a social media person and you get on there at least to look at tweets or Instagrams, you see this all the time, right? Getty watermarked images, Shutterstock watermarked images.
The guy in the left has 100,000 followers, plays for Alabama; guy in the middle has a couple million followers, plays for the Vikings. The guy on the right has 30 million followers. He’s an international soccer superstar, can’t get access to pictures of himself. These are guys who have gotten themselves to the elite level of athletics; worked so hard to get on the field and make moments, and they don’t have the rights to their own photos. Even a commercial post, they’re not making money on these posts. They can’t just get the rights to content? It outraged me. It kept me up at night. It led to me selling my business to start INFLCR.
Here’s another thing you see after games. Guys tweeting, “I need pictures. If you have pictures of me from the Ohio State game, please send them,” because they can’t get pictures. This is this athletes talking to you, showing you they can’t get pictures.
Kyle Guy wins the national championship. “Please, if anyone has pictures, send them ASAP,” people are tweeting back at him with pictures. No access to content for the channel. This would be like NBC Atlanta telling NBC corporate New York, “Hey, we need some content for the national part of the broadcast tonight. We’re your local affiliate. Can you get us some content?” Same thing. These are affiliate channels of the school they play for reaching way more people than the school—way more. We showed you that earlier.
So, as you can tell, I’m a little passionate about this.
So what does it look like if an athlete has access to little or no content in real time versus if they have access to multiple pieces of unique content in real time? So, what does it look like if an athlete walks out of the national championship game for Virginia after winning it all and doesn’t have content versus if an athlete walks out of a big game, Auburn beats Alabama, and has content right after the game? What does that look like? The athlete is 85% more likely to post to social media. This is based on a study across our 15,000 athletes, hundred plus clients, 500-plus teams and the teams that don’t use us yet; 85% more likely than an INFLCR athlete is going to post and usually that means immediately after the game and that’s going to reach those recruits, those fans and all those other people in the audience I showed you they have.
So, caught up with a few athletes, somebody from my team visited a couple schools, North Carolina and Kentucky, and this is just 60 seconds more of athletes talking to you, telling you what they want. Remember, these are the owners of the channels that now own the bigger audience in college sports.
Player 1: I’m not a huge social media guy.
Player 2: I came in. I was not a big social media guy. I didn’t really like posting on Instagram because my freshman year was hard for me trying to find pictures and stuff like that. And then once INFLCR came, it just, after every game, they would have them ready for you. And you can pick up whichever you want to send them to anybody you want and post them anywhere you want.
Player 3: The biggest thing is just helped me change my mindset as far as my brand and life after Kentucky. It really changed our mindset as far as like how do you brand yourself. How do you market yourself? What’s going to help you 1, 2, 3, 4 years down the line?
Player 4: I had people encouraging me to post. I felt like it really, it really changed my platform like I really grew a lot and when, like, the fans really got to interact with me when I started posting pictures after that.
Player 5: And just being able to grow my brand and really become more active on social media was useful. I mean, it really helped me kind of go into the next level for sure.
Player 6: I’m definitely looking forward to using that in the NBA as well.
Jim Cavale: So, a few things I want to point out. Number one, some of those guys said they weren’t as active on social. This helped them become more active. Some said it showed them what to share. It gave them a message. I think it’s important because when we think of athletes and social, the first thing that probably pops into most people’s heads are tweets that were found from when they were 14 that end up ruining their most outstanding player award, right? We saw that with Villanova a couple of years ago. And when DiVincenzo was found to have tweeted some so-called racist things, right, and it overshadowed the big win for Villanova. We think about things like that, the horror stories of social.
But as a father of three kids, I don’t focus on the don’ts with my kids. So I tell them, you know, some of the consequences that can happen, but I like to tell them the do’s. I like to show them how to do things the right way. And I think we have the same thing here with college kids who have a responsibility that none of us in this room can understand, 10s of thousands, hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions of followers, attention we’ve never experienced for most people in this room, and they’re being asked as 18-, 19-, 20-, 21-year-old young men and women to be responsible with that attention.
It’s our responsibility just like we do with many other things—media training, school that they have to attend, life studies and things that we’re going to do to help develop them as men and women when they go into the world. We have to develop them here. And it’s not training that they’re going to forget. It’s giving them messaging that they want to be able to share.
So when you look at an average post by an athlete, 22% engagement, that means if they have 100,000 followers, they’re going to get a total of 22,000 likes, views, clicks, comments. Whereas a team account is going to get 3%.
Okay, so just think about that. So now we go back to this whole payroll discussion, schools are spending a quarter of a million to a million dollars in staff to produce content to push out through their team channels, which gets 3% engagement because people follow people more than they follow brands on social. Whereas that same content, when shared by athletes is getting 22% engagement. So not only is it reaching 3 to 10 times more people, but it’s getting engaged with 10 times more.
So when you look at the impact of this for the athlete because all of us, our jobs, our roles exist because and for athletes, right? So let’s look at how it impacts them. Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin, going to the Rose Bowl this year, big season; had a big season last year.
Look at where he was when he got on our platform this summer. And look at where he is now. Look at the impact this is having… had on his brand, and think about when he goes pro how much this is going to impact him. Okay.
Another story not on the screen, Josh Allen, number seven pick this year in the NFL Draft, Kentucky football. When I met Josh before the 2018 historic season, best season in history of Kentucky, he had 5,800 followers when he got drafted this April 72,000 followers. This is just Instagram, the Old Spice, Bows, and other endorsement deals that came to him because of that were significant. And he wasn’t the only first round guy that got that. But there was a lot of first round guys that didn’t, because they didn’t have the social activation opportunity for the brands that they wanted.
And so, when we say athletes aren’t paid in college, no, they’re not. But are they building up a trust that they can cash in on when they go pro for the ones who do? Yes. And for the ones who don’t go pro, which is obviously the great majority, are they building up a resume and a brand that employers would want… will look at, number one, for sure, because I’m an employer, I look at every former athlete or non-former athlete’s social before I start to hire somebody, but also, can they leverage that brand to work a lot of different jobs, where their brand will help them? Yes. So, Jonathan Taylor.
Here’s another guy, Ashton Hagans, point guard at Kentucky, huge growth story since he came on the platform, and I love this. You can see he did a, an Instagram ban, he banned himself on Instagram for a couple months before the season and look how it stagnates when he does that, because when you don’t post, you’re not going to grow your following, you’re not present out there. Now, he’s since come off and, and is participating again. But the point I’m trying to make is posting often, having content is what leads to athlete growth with audience.
Derrick Brown, Auburn, big win a couple weeks ago in the Iron Bowl, look at this, gets on the platform and just spikes. So this is what happens when you give athletes content. And, of course, if all your athletes are experiencing growth, not only are you able to sell in the recruiting process, “Hey, we’re going to help you when you’re… with, with your brand when you come to our school, we create content and we’re going to give it to you and help you tell your story on social and you’re going to grow your brand.”
But you also have now all your athletes doing this, which is growing your overall collective audience, which is very important when we start to talk about name, image and likeness, which is where we’re going to end. Because name image and likeness while many think it’s a me game, it’s going to create selfish athletes, and it’s only going to be for the top 1%, it’s not true. It’s a we game. It’s about collective unique audience.
And so, the new era of sports and social, it’s really important to consider this new era. There’s going to be a formula. And this is my estimation of it, a formula of organic, free-storytelling on social versus paid posts. Right now paid posts and advertising on social is in its infancy and quite frankly, it’s not very effective.
If you look at most posts by athletes with a hashtag ad, a paid post, it’s filled with comments from all their friends and teammates and peers making fun of the post. It’s just… social media is about authenticity. It’s about storytelling. It’s… that’s why it’s been so successful. And we’re still figuring out how advertising works in it.
What I’ll tell you is there’s a ratio that works. In the 9 out of 10 posts you do, 9 out of every 10 should be free. They should be letting people into your life.
Think LeBron James, Tuesday nights, he’s showing you his family, and they’re doing Taco Tuesday. The next day, he’s in the weight room with his teammates, and he’s calling out an opponent. The next day, he’s showing a big win and a 10-game winning streak for the Lakers. None of those posts are monetized. That’s storytelling. And that’s what every athlete in college sports and every school should be helping their athletes do more than anything right now because that is the foundation to create value opportunities for brands who want to sponsor 1 out of every 10 posts.
And the problem is this is not how everybody is doing it. So let’s look at LeBron and let’s look at an international soccer superstar. So, about the same audience. And, and, you know, that matters. This is just Instagram. But look at the volume of paid posts. So these posts that are circled are sponsored posts. They were paid to do them.
So LeBron, 2 out of the 15 posts up there are sponsored, that shows you how often he is posting and telling his story versus an advertising content sponsorship post coming through his system. And then if you look at Ronaldinho, I mean, totally different situation. Almost all of his posts are sponsored. And we see this a lot. Sometimes you go to athlete accounts and all they have is sponsored posts, and they only have six posts over the last 365 days. That is not the foundation where brands are going to come in and do partnerships.
LeBron is the foundation. It just continues, as you can see here when it comes to his breakdown. And look at the value. So if you were going to pay a million dollars to one of these athletes it’s clearly going to be LeBron because he outperforms this international soccer superstar three to one in every stat because he’s telling his story.
And so, that’s what can already happen before name, image and likeness, and anything changes with the opportunity for athletes to monetize their brand. They have to build a foundation, whether it’s going to be at the pro level or college level to be able to do that.
You have to build a foundation with your college athletics department and your athletes responsibly, to have real value exist. It’s your responsibility to provide content to your athletes.
If you hear nothing else today, it’s our responsibility as leaders in college sports to empower our athletes, the reason our jobs exist, with the content that they co-own editorially, not commercially.
We’re not monetizing posts at the college level right now with athletes, editorially. And you know what? The traditional media rights holders are starting to agree with me.
So if the traditional media rights holders are starting to turn on this, the schools have to think, “Wow, we’re employing half a dozen, a dozen people to shoot content for our team accounts, which is reaching a 10th of the people that our athletes are reaching, and the athletes are asking for content. And they need it to grow their brand responsibly, so that they don’t make the mistakes we don’t want them to make, but they stay on brand and represent our brand well for recruits, and fans to engage with. That’s the call to action that I want you to leave with.
And if you do that, then you can ask for a campaign. You can ask, if you’re Auburn, Jarrett Stidham to do a post on your behalf. You can sell shoes with an athlete. You can sell a video game with an athlete. But these campaigns do not work if the athlete is not hitting that 9 out of 10 organic storytelling posts that I was talking about.
So I want to end with the me versus we thing I brought up. I hear a lot of people talking about name, image, and likeness, and most say that it’s only going to be for the Zion Williamsons and it’s only going create a separation between those top 1% athletes and the rest, the, you know, Lucy who plays field hockey at Northeastern, and Johnny who plays hockey at Michigan.
And the reality is, that’s just not true. This is a collective game. And it’s a rising tides lifts all boats situation. It is truly a we game. And I want to give you a picture of that to end. You have a team. They have 100 student athletes.
They have a total unique following of a million people. The punter has 1% ownership of that audience based on his total following that helps make up the million-person total following. The quarterback has 270,000 followers, making up 27% of the total following in the team. Brands will begin to do team deals divided amongst the athletes who want to participate for them to be able to get their pro rata share. And that’s where this is going to lead. And it’s going to create opportunities that don’t exist now, but they won’t be as potent if the 9 out of 10 post foundation that I just went through isn’t already in existence.
You can’t just rush to monetization. You can’t just rush to, “Hey, let’s do this campaign with this prewritten post and this preset picture.” You’ve got to start with authentic storytelling. It’s hard. It’s time consuming. It takes a range of time to make an impact.
But you have dozens and even hundreds of individuals on your campus right now who are ready to participate in that game and tell their story in the context of yours. Thank you.